A truckload of radioactive waste that was originally meant to wind up at a storage site in Carlsbad, New Mexico arrived in West Texas today.
It was just the first of many that will be crossing the state line into Andrews County over the coming months.
The waste was initially headed for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, but that site’s been shuttered for over a month after what officials have described as a small leak contaminated 17 workers.
It’s called “transuranic waste” – things like clothing, rags and tools that saw low levels of contamination over decades of nuclear power research and weapons development at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
A company called Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County has secured an $8.8 million contract to temporarily store the materials until the Carlsbad site is back up and running.
There’s no set timeline for when that could happen, but in the meantime, the Department of Energy says as many as 100 more shipments will be sent to West Texas over the next few months, with as many as 10 shipments arriving per week.
Waste Control’s spokesperson Chuck McDonald says there is a timeline for when the waste will be fully arrived in Andrews County.
“They have to have all of this waste removed from Los Alamos by June 30th of this year,” McDonald says.
The shutdown in Carlsbad has focused new attention on the nation’s problem of finding a long-term home for nuclear waste.
Governor Rick Perry on Wednesday called on state officials to start working on solutions in Texas, and to stop waiting on the federal government.
In a statement, Perry said the state has “no choice” but to start looking for somewhere to store its own waste within its own borders, and Chuck McDonald says that’s not a bad move.
“We obviously think it’s appropriate for the state to address the long-term issues associated with high-level radioactive waste,” McDonald says.
McDonald says his company would consider being an option for a long-term storage site in Texas, if the nearby community welcomes the idea.
Waste Control’s one-year contract with the Department of Energy to house the waste could be extended, if the Carlsbad site still isn’t ready to take the load.
But for now, the DOE says it will give state regulators a written plan to move the waste back from Andrews County by September 30th.